Trail runners beware: if you accuse another runner of cheating, make sure your evidence is bulletproof–or face the consequences. Paolo Rossi, the 2014 Tor des Géants participant who accused 2012 and 2013 champion Francesca Canepa of accepting a ride in the middle of the race, has been found guilty of defaming her in an Italian court, and must pay her €15,000 in compensation as well as a €2,500 fine.
According to a report in the Italian media outlet La Stampa, Rossi claimed to have seen Canepa being driven between Cogne and Lillaz on the Tor course, a distance of about three kilometres, and confronted her, leading to a heated argument on the course.
Rossi’s accusation led to Canepa’s disqualification, but not directly. Sometime after the confrontation, 149 kilometres into the race, Canepa was leading when race officials confronted her and told her she was under investigation based on the fact that she missed the checkpoint at Les Goilles in Cogne. In her defense, Canepa claimed there was no volunteer present to check her in, but vehemently denied any implication that she missed the checkpoint because she got a ride.
In a videotaped interview with Sergio Garasa of Carreras de Montana, Canepa says she was already considering dropping out, that she was so shocked by Rossi’s accusation that she lost her mental focus and her will to win. She says Rossi’s accusation resulted from his belief that he was ahead of her, when he simply had not seen her leave the previous checkpoint ahead of him.
She describes a table of refreshments (tea, in particular) at the checkpoint she’s accused of skipping, and how she wasn’t sure if she was allowed to help herself, since there were no volunteers present. She decided to go ahead, and then carried on her way before being waylaid by race organizers at the next checkpoint and told she was under investigation.
Rossi’s accusation was published in an Italian newspaper, and though he admitted later that he was no longer sure, the damage was done. Canepa took him to court, resulting in this week’s verdict.
Canepa criticizes the race for not using GPS tracking (which it now does). Canepa also raised the issue of drug testing, the relative lack of which is a big issue in ultratrail, and something her fellow racers (like Camille Herron) have been vocal about. Canepa says some men who could not believe she could be faster than them accused her of cheating in 2013 also. “I would like to have someone come in my home and do anti-doping,” she says.
When asked if she would return to Tor, Canepa says no.
“I did not take a machine and I did not skip checkpoints,” Canepa posted when the decision against Rossi came down earlier this week.
It wasn’t the first time there had been accusations of cheating at Tor. In 2011, according to a report by journalist Ian Corless, Marco Gazzola admitted to cheating and was disqualified.
Canepa won UTMB in 2018 and Oman by UTMB in 2019. She was 17th female at Western States in 2019.
Tor des Géants is a 330-kilometre ultratrail endurance race in the Italian Alps with 27,390m of elevation change.